When thousands of parents, educators and students banned together in opt-out protests and other demonstrations against the test-and-punish system of accountability, their message was clear—we need a new way to measure the quality of teaching and learning in America. It was amid this growing outcry that the National Education Association Accountability Task Force released its report, “A New Vision for Student Success.” Now, the delegates who are gathered in Orlando this week for the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly (RA) are working to advance and broaden that vision.
In its report, the 19-member Task Force addresses issues that the current narrow focus on testing overlooks—including equity and access. Equally important, the report also explains how shared responsibility for our educational system will best serve students. While today’s policies overemphasize test scores, the Task Force turned its attention to opportunities for educators to share in the decision-making on high quality curriculum and policy to provide support for teaching and learning.
“NEA and its members are taking the lead in a student-centered system with quality, trust, and capacity are at the foundation;, where support and collaboration replace test and punish,’ says Becky Pringle, NEA vice president.” We must move from the current system to one that embraces equity, quality, inspiration, innovation, responsibility, commitment, investment, assessment, and continuous improvement.”
The Task Force calls for stakeholders to have high expectations of all schools, educators, and students, but is emphatic that the level of investment must mirror increased expectations. The report stresses that for too long, minority students have been underserved by our educational system.
The Task Force also reaffirms NEA’s commitment to addressing the needs of minority students through culturally responsive teaching and by working with local communities to help tackle the problems associated with poverty—problems like hunger, violence and homelessness, that often prevent low-income students from learning..
“Responsibility for equity has never been more important,” says Pringle. “More than half of the students in our public schools are living in poverty and the public school population now has more students from minority backgrounds than ever.
Creating an environment of shared responsibility and investment is an essential element of the Task Force vision. The Task Force recommends exploring new measures of student success and establishing a coalition of education stakeholders, including community and parent groups as well as other educational organizations to chart the course towards the new vision.
To bolster educator effectiveness, the Task Force recommends that a team of peers help facilitate preparation, growth and development throughout an educator’s career. Teachers would be supported at every stage, from the day they walk through the school doors, as they are on the continuum to becoming accomplished educators, until they become education leaders, helping other teachers better serve students. The recommendations reflect the Task Force consensus belief in a shared, lateral accountability that calls for all educators to be responsible to students, parents, each other , and the profession.
“Every education professional— teacher, librarian, counselor, para-educator, administrator, or a bus driver—each one should have a set of clear and meaningful standards of practice and career growth opportunities that enable them to continually improve their practice and contribute to student and school success and help maintain high standards of practice for education professions,” says Pringle. “Rather than viewing each educator as the same, or all educators as a single group with common needs, this continuum acknowledges educators have different needs, based on their roles, and at different stages of their careers.”
Delegates to the 2015 NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly, passed two New Business Items (NBIs) supporting the recommendations of the Task Force that will help move this work forward in the coming year.. First, delegates passed a measure directing the Association to convene a panel of public education stakeholders to begin implementing the Task Force recommendations.
“By passing this NBI, the delegates recognized that we can’t do this important work alone,” says Pringle. “We must partner with other education, parent and community stakeholders; we must work shoulder to shoulder or we won’t be successful in realizing our vision.”
Delegates also passed a measure calling on the Association to build career support systems that promote professional growth for education support professionals (ESP) and Specialized Instruction Support Personnel. From school nurses and food service professionals, to custodians and bus drivers, these educators help shape the school day for students and contribute to their education in significant ways. These members of the education team need mentoring too and they need support throughout their careers to better serve students.
Finally, as a signal of the Association’s commitment to serving low-income and minority students, the delegates also voted to pass an NBI that addresses issues of institutional racism. This damaging legacy continues to grip our country and prevents large populations of students from having access to a quality public education, qualified teachers, and great public schools. This measure also calls for a coalition of partners to work together to eradicate policies that perpetuate institutional racism in education and expand educator-led professional development in areas of cultural competence, diversity, and social justice.